My stomach is still churning as I sit uncomfortably at my desk in the newsroom. I just shoved 12 hot wings down my throat in front of an audience of many at the North Dakota State Fair Friday evening and the only thing I have to show for it is a T-shirt.
My editor sent me out as an observer to the hot wing eating contest, but local media people roped me into participating with them in the "Celebrity Division" of the Buffalo Wild Wings Challenge. I resisted at first, considering I had just stuffed myself like a pig on gyros and mini donuts due to having an extra hour to spare since there was confusion about the start time. With a full stomach, however, they gave the restaurant's general manager, Bennie Taylor, my name to announce while I stood behind, so I had to do it.
I sat next to Bob Berger, the chief engineer for a local television station. Next to him was Steve Bakken, a local radio personality, and then at the far end was Shaun Sipma, a local anchor. Our 12 "Blazing" hot wings in six minutes challenge was off and, like with the last competition I was in, I started with fury hoping to stuff the food faster than I'd realize I'd overstuffed myself.
Vince Azzarello and 13 others cover their faces in hot sauce as they shove what feels like endless chicken wings into their mouths in the Men’s Division of the Buffalo Wild Wings Challenge at the North Dakota State Fair Friday evening.
In fact, Taylor said that I was "doing my thing" as he gave the play-by-play in the opening seconds, but seconds after that I, and probably Berger, found we were hopelessly behind Bakken and Sipma.
The heat of the wings, the restaurant's hottest, wasn't really a concern as I attempted to wolf them down. Taylor says it's much harder when they're hot out of the oven, but I don't think any amount of heat could compete with the difficulty of chewing. And I wasn't alone in struggling with the mouth-to-stomach problem.
"I couldn't chew fast enough to get it all down," said Lee Johnston, of Minot, who was the only person in any of the three divisions to score worse than I did.
"The hardest part was swallowing," said Vince Azzarello, the production director for a local radio station. "It wasn't too hot but I just couldn't get all that food in my mouth and swallow it at the same time. That's why I was about three minutes or something."
"You can get it in your mouth but then you run out of room in your mouth and you've got to get it somewhere," said Cody McManigal, of Minot, who didn't win this competition but once won a hot dog eating contest by eating 27 hot dogs in three minutes. "And then you have to take time to swallow and then you get hiccups."
Some people recognized this terrible challenge of swallowing a massive amount of chicken but succeeded anyway.
Rebecca Slade, who placed first in the women's division, said that the heat didn't bother her either, but the chewing slowed her down. Not too much, though, because she claims that she's always been a fast eater.
I have never been a fast eater and as Taylor got the crowd to chant my name, I still came in over two minutes later than Berger, who placed third. The crowd ribbed me not to give up and Taylor repeated that nobody should lose.
But those four wings left on my platter when everyone else had finished taunted me worse than anything I could have ever imagined. They never seemed to go away and their ability to grow larger and larger, as it seemed to me, tipped the rest of the world out of proportion and I nearly gave in and forgot who I was. This is what my entire life had come to, a free meal and psychological upheaval.
Finally, somehow, the last scrap of chicken off the very last wing was done and the crowd erupted into cheers as I hastily chugged some milk to make sure I could keep it all down.
I still feel whoozy and overly, uncomfortably full. But I finished and have now won my right to wear my new "Blazin' Challenge Survivor" T-shirt and hold myself with dignity. I still had 33 seconds, of course, before time ran out. It was the crowd that saved me from oblivion or I would had given up long before I did in favor of comfort and retaining my size-32 pant size.
"It's fun to see everyone's faces get all messy and see their eyes water a little bit," said Ashley Busch, an intern with the State Fair marketing department who is currently a sophomore at Minot State University. "It's kind of neat and I know I'd be too much of a wimp to try it."
Believe me, Ashley, I'm too much of a wimp to ever consider trying a food competition again. Hopefully Taylor, who once played basketball at MSU after moving here from Kansas City, Mo., will take my place in next year's event. The rest of you can just find me milking fake cows at the Expo Barn.